If you had told me just a few months ago that I would be sitting reviewing an Arctic Monkeys album, chances are I would have laughed you out the room. Ever since they first exploded onto the scene with ‘I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ back in 2005 I’ve been little more than ambivalent to towards the band, to the extent that when they appeared at last years Olympic Opening Ceremony at Danny Boyle’s behest I was completely stunned. I had no idea that they had actually released, to that point, four studio albums. So, earlier this year, when they headlined Glastonbury and I sat and watched their show I was surprised to find myself pretty impressed.
Having heard some of the newer tracks at that show I started to take a little bit of interest in the upcoming album. I had heard that lead Monkey, Alex Turner, had hit it off with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme and that they had made some music together which only intrigued me more. To be fair, it did seem that possibly I was the only one who had missed this – sometimes it baffles me that people let me write for a music site. But I’m digressing here.
Early last week it was announced that the bands latest album, AM, was being shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize this year. On seeing this I headed over to Spotify to give the album a quick listen and have been stuck there since. To say the album has made an impression on me is an understatement.
First things first, the sound and production here is sublime. Beautifully nuanced and layered, it’s one of these albums where you pick up different subtleties with each listen and sounds stunning up loud and through headphones. Opener, ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ is a perfect example with a stark, ominous sounding riff over the top of some delightfully light guitar lines. Next up, ‘R U Mine’, has a similar sounding riff, if a bit more uptempo. I’ve been looking for a song of the year and I think I’ve found it. Heavy as a truckful of elephants, some fantastic drumming and deliciously sleazy sounding groove.
‘One For The Road’ introduces Josh Homme’s first contribution and is the point when I realised that t’Arctics aren’t just a bunch of indie kids. Pure popped dipped in an R’n’B swagger and this is a theme that carry’s through the next couple of songs until we get to ‘No.1 Party Anthem’. Dripping, in equal measures, with irony and nostalgia, the contrast between the biting lyrics and the sweetness of the music is stark. Another nod to what I’ve been missing for the last few years.
‘Mad Sounds’ is probably about the most straightforward tune on the album, a relatively simple ballad that could’ve been plucked from somewhere in the early 70s with almost a hint of Lou Reed to it. The slightly more uptempo ‘Fireside’ then leads onto ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’, a song that fits in perfectly with the album’s first two tracks but has an almost hip-hop rhythm to it.
‘Snap Out of It’ passes by, the blandest track on the album, but ‘Knee Socks’, the second contribution from Homme, is a creeping, dark track with a killer guitar line and some atmospheric backing vocals from Josh. The album closes with ‘I Wanna be Yours’. With the evolution of the band, the new breadth of their sound the lyrics, by punk poet John Cooper Clarke, almost feel like their bringing the band home to Sheffield. Possibly the most comfortable track on the album because of this, but a brilliant way to finish it off.
This is a proper rock ‘n’ roll record. Lyrically AM has the knowing wit I would expect from the Monkeys combined with a maturity and intelligence that I didn’t expect. This is the first British band I can think of to combine full on swagger and attitude with killer songs since Definitely Maybe-era Oasis. I’ll definitely be checking out what I’ve missed.
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